International Mobile Roaming – Taking your Australian Mobile Overseas

What is International Mobile Roaming (IMR)?

International mobile roaming allows you to use an Australian mobile device service overseas. There is no need to change your SIM card. You continue to make and receive calls and browse the web as if you were back in Australia. The call and data traffic you generate “roams” over another cellular network.

This handy arrangement is possible because your Australian phone company has negotiated an agreement with a local phone company. This foreign telecom allows the Australian company’s customer to roam over their cellular network at a pre-negotiated charge.

Will you have to pay more for IMR?

The need to cover the charges of both the Australian company and its foreign partner push up IMR rates. For example, you might find out that:

  • There is an extra charge for call connection.
  • Call duration is calculated in different ways to what you are expecting.
  • Rates vary according to the time of day.

In particular, the costs of mobile data overseas significantly exceed the rates you are used to pay in Australia. These higher IMR charges go into effect as soon as your phone makes its presence known on the overseas network. Even if you are careful to avoid streaming online videos and other well-known data-consuming activities, simple actions such as accessing a mapping app cost much more than you expect.

Ways to keep your IMR Costs Down

If you take the following precautions you can shield yourself against some of the main sources of bill shock.

  • Avoid using data roaming overseas.
    After leaving Australia, turn off data roaming on your mobile device (how to do this varies between mobiles).
    Smartphones and 3G and 4G-enabled tablets continually try to update their apps online. If you forget to turn off the mobile device’s data roaming function before leaving Australia you will have to pay for this automatic uploading.
  • Buy an international data pack.
    If you must use mobile data, buy an international data pack from your phone company. Although it will cost more than data use within Australia it is still cheaper than the alternative.
  • Use Wi-Fi hotspots where possible.
    Accessing the web via Wi-Fi hotspots saves on roaming costs. However, it is not advisable to enter bank account details or other sensitive data if you use a Wi-Fi hotspot.
  • Beware of unexpected charges.
    Find out if you will be charged overseas for receiving calls, or other services that you get free in Australia.

The Local SIM card Alternative

Alternative options to IMR are well-worth exploring. For example, if you plan to make many local phone calls while you are abroad you can save a great deal if you buy a local pay as you go (PAYG) SIM card, but you only have this option if your mobile is unlocked. Another point to consider is that you cannot use your family mobile number with the local SIM card.

IMR with Australia’s Big Three Phone Companies

Which of the country’s leading phone companies offers the best mobile roaming deal? This depends on factors such as the location you want to visit, the length of the visit, your phone plan option, and your likely phone usage i.e. can you manage with a very small data allowance?

Here are a few of the main features extracted from the major companies’ IMR offers.

IMR with Optus

You can use your Optus mobile device in 180 countries. Their IMR rates on a plan, and prepaid roaming rates divide into two geographical zones. For example, the following charges apply to calls made in the UK, but if you made these calls in Brazil they would cost twice as much:

  • Calls: $1.00 per minute
  • Sending SMS: $0.50 (receiving SMS is free)
  • Data: $0.50 per MB (charged per 10KB)

The company also sells pre-paid Optus TravelTM Packs. These cost you $10 per day. For this price you get:

  • Unlimited talk and SMS
  • 50 MB of data for use in Zone 1 countries
  • If you need a larger data allowance you can purchase packs for multiple days.

To make sure that you cannot run up a huge IMR bill unawares, Optus keep you informed of your bill status. For example, customers on plans receive alerts when they use up 50%, 85% and 100% of their allowance.

IMR with Vodafone

Vodafone offers their customers a $5 Roaming deal. For a $5 daily fee you can use all your call minutes, text and data in 47 countries. This offer only applies to their Red Plan customers.

For countries outside their $5 Roaming zone Vodafone charges:

  • $1 per minute to make or receive calls
  • $1 per MB of data used
  • 75c per for text message

$5 Roaming sounds likes a good offer, but you need to investigate how quickly your mobile allowance will be consumed in a foreign country. On their FAQ page Vodafone asks

“How much will roaming cost?”

The answer provided is

“Pricing depends on the country you are travelling to and the pricing option you select – so make sure you familiarise yourself with the full details before you travel.”

Presumably they are telling you that you cannot expect just to pay only your Australian mobile rates plus an extra $5 a day. Instead you need to inquire how much calls, data and text are going to be charged for the specific country you are visiting.

IMR with Telstra

Telstra divides their overseas travel path offers between mobiles on a plan, prepaid mobile data packs and mobile broadband devices.

The travel pass for mobiles on a plan gives you unlimited calls and SMS to standard phone numbers plus small data allowances. The Zone 1 rates (only apply in New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand) are half the Zone 2 (35 other countries) rates. For example, a 14 day pass to a Zone 1 country costs $70 and includes 700MB of data. The same pass costs $140 for a Zone 2 country.

Prepaid mobiles travel pass. Telstra automatically activates roaming on prepaid mobile phones. You can buy data packs for:

  • $29 for 100MB
  • $85 for 300MB
  • $160 for 600MB
  • Additional data costs $3 per MB.

Travel data packs for mobile broadband devices include the same data allowances as the prepaid mobile phones, but you can also buy a large 1.5GB allowance for $350.

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